I was just an 18-year-old Freshman at the State University of New York at Albany where one Saturday morning, a group black students gathered in front of our dormitory, Anthony Hall, and headed into town to network with active members of the city’s black community. Julio, whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, was one of the first to join us. As a naive 18-year-old kid surprised by his presence, I made a terribly ignorant remark to him, but you’re not black! Calmly shaking his head, Julio's response was, don’t piss me off in the morning. Another classmate rightfully frowned and scolded me for it.
The truth of the matter is that Julio is indeed the same complexion as I, and I'm black. What a lot of people, including many African-Americans, evidently do not understand is that slave ships set sail for the Spanish-speaking countries more than 100 years before they set sail for the US. In fact, there were blacks, slave and free, marching among the Spanish conquistadors.
Had Julio, who is very well read, been in the mood that morning, he, with all of his academic prowess would have probably said the same thing to me as the writer of this article, Rosa Clemente, says to those whom she meets and try to deny her African heritage for no other reason than the fact that she is “Puerto Rican.” I just love how she breaks it down.
Yesterday, an interesting thing happened to me. I was told I am not Black.The kicker for me was when my friend stated that the island of Puerto Rico was not a part of the African Diaspora. I wanted to go back to the old school playground days and yell: “You said what about my momma?!” But after speaking to several friends, I found out that many Black Americans and Latinos agree with him. The miseducation of the Negro is still in effect!
I am so tired of having to prove to others that I am Black, that my peoples are from the Motherland, that Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic, are part of the African Diaspora. Did we forget that the slave ships dropped off our people all over the world, hence the word Diaspora?The Atlantic slave trade brought Africans to Puerto Rico in the early 1500s. Some of the first slave rebellions took place on the island of Puerto Rico. Until 1846, Africanos on the island had to carry a libreta to move around the island, like the passbook system in apartheid South Africa. In Puerto Rico, you will find large communities of descendants of the Yoruba, Bambara, Wolof and Mandingo people. Puerto Rican culture is inherently African culture.
There are hundreds of books that will inform you, but I do not need to read book after book to legitimize this thesis. All I need to do is go to Puerto Rico and look all around me. Damn, all I really have to do is look in the mirror every day.I am often asked what I am—usually by Blacks who are lighter than me and by Latinos/as who are darker than me.
To answer the $100,000, 000 question, I am a Black Boricua, Black Rican, Puertorriqueña! Almost always I am questioned about why I choose to call myself Black over Latina, Spanish, Hispanic. Let me break it down.I am not Spanish. Spanish is just another language I speak. I am not a Hispanic. My ancestors are not descendants of Spain, but descendants of Africa. I define my existence by race and land. (Borinken is the indigenous name of the island of Puerto Rico.).
Being Latino is not a cultural identity but rather a political one. Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but rather a cultural and national one. Being Black is my racial identity. Why do I have to consistently explain this to those who are so-called conscious? Is it because they have a problem with their identity? Why is it so bad to assert who I am, for me to big-up my Africanness?
My Blackness is one of the greatest powers I have. We live in a society that devalues Blackness all the time. I will not be devalued as a human being, as a child of the Supreme Creator.
Although many of us in activist circles are enlightened, many of us have baggage that we must deal with. So many times I am asked why many Boricuas refuse to affirm their Blackness. I attribute this denial to the ever-rampant anti-Black sentiment in America and throughout the world, but I will not use this as an excuse. Often Puerto Ricans who assert our Blackness are not only outcast by Latinos who identify more with their Spanish Conqueror than their African ancestors, but we are also shunned by Black Americans who do not see us as Black.
Nelly Fuller, a great Black sociologist, stated: “Until one understands the system of White supremacy, anything and everything else will confuse you.” Divide and conquer still applies.
Listen people: Being Black is not just skin color, nor is it synonymous with Black Americans. To assert who I am is the most liberating and revolutionary thing I can ever do. Being a Black Puerto Rican encompasses me racially, ethically and most importantly, gives me a homeland to refer to.
So I have come to this conclusion: I am whatever I say I am! (Thank you, Rakim.)
*First posted in The Final Call on July 10, 2011
Rosa Alicia Clemente is a Bronx born Puerto Rican woman. She is a community organizer, journalist, Hip Hop activist and the 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate with the GREEN PARTY. She is currently a doctoral student in the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMASS-Amherst and is writing her first book entitled When a Puerto Rican Woman Ran for Vice-President and Nobody Knew Her Name. For more information about Rosa and her work, visit http://www.rosaclemente.org/